Last weekend we dismantled our last standing bookshelf. The books came off and got placed into two piles: to be stored and to be given away. My partner took the shelves off; I collected the little shelf pins; and then he took out a screw driver and unscrewed the brace. Now we had multiple pieces of wood, quite a few bullet shapes and one long x-shaped piece of metal. The pieces of bookshelf were carefully placed into our little car, and driven over to my partner’s parents’ place for their use. Earlier during the week, we had dismantled the second last standing bookshelf and driven it to my sister’s workplace, where it was reassembled for her to put multi-coloured folders on. A few weeks ago, we had dismantled the first lot of shelves.
Over the past few months, our walls have been getting more and more naked. Our living room is now devoid of books on walls and I feel bereft. I am used to being surrounded by all these books – some I’ve read, some I’ve been meaning to read, some I would never read (my partner’s DH Lawrence’s and Thomas Hardy’s being prime examples) and some that I have forgotten that I even acquired. I always enjoy that surprise, as you are browsing your own shelves, of making a discovery.
There is a room in my house, however, that has been getting more and more full. In one corner is a stack of archive boxes: 7 stand comfortably atop each other before my partner looks askance at me as I raise a box of books above my head. Seven is the limit for stacking archive boxes when one is 5 foot nothing. Along the floor are all the books that we will not be keeping. As visitors come to our house, we take them into this room and gesture magnanimously at the books on the floor: Take what you will, we say. Please, we beg.
I have taken to making care packages of books, to be given to people as I have fare-thee-well breakfasts, lunches and dinners with them. I put great thought into what books I choose to give to people. I start with what I know of their reading, and then I attempt to match, and expand. I have given a friend, who is spiritual, creative and feminist, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Saints and Angels by Ivan Klima and Journey to Ithaca by Kiran Desai. A friend who reads indiscriminately trash and high literature provided “it has a good story” has had foisted upon her Possession by AS Byatt, Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler and a number of novels by Carson McCullers. My niece received my complete works of Shakespeare and Norton’s Anthology of Drama. I was so proud when she squealed in delight: I gave her an unexpected hug and kiss, and both of our faces suddenly got smeared with whatever goop she was putting into her hair. A friend who reads fantasy got my partner’s science fiction thrust at her, with me yabbering away about the number of Michael Moorcocks that she can have (except that I have to check with my partner first).
My workmates, however, have not been so fruitful. In the lunchtime lift, I was nattering away about all the things that needed to be done before we go, when my work colleague said: Oh! And all your books! Oh, I know, I exclaimed, that’s the real big task. Another newish work colleague looked bemused so the first colleague explained that I had a lot of books. Oh really? Newish Work Colleage sounded interested. So I plunged in with: Yeah, heaps! Do you like to read? If you would like any of my books, I’m more than happy to give them to you. Great she said. I was so excited – more people to give books away to. What do you read? Name a few authors and I’ll see what I’ve got that’s compatible. She grins happily and says: Thrillers. John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer. Oh, I have to deliver my disappointment and choke back a desire to say that I don’t read ariport fiction, unless I am at the airport and desperate. I say lamely, Well, we read very broadly so I’ll see what we’ve got. We’ve got nothing suitable, is what, and I already know it. So does she. We will not be talking books again.
The most difficult task so far has been refining my filing. A few years ago I worked up the gumption to throw out my law school notes. They went into the rubbish bin quite gleefully, with me surprised that I had kept them through two house moves. Last weekend, I finally tackled the folders that comprised my honours thesis, Latin and ancient history courses. I remember that when I finished my honours thesis, I arranged my notes and photocopied journal articles and book chapters into well organised and clearly labelled folders. I had this intention of trimming my thesis and submitting it somewhere for publication. I never got around to doing that, and I barely looked at my honours thesis after I handed it in.
I picked up the folders labelled such riveting things as: “Feminist Historiography”, “Women – General”, “Messalina – Specific” and opened them. Inside there were handwritten notes, tabbed in a variety of colours, highlighted in other colours still. There had been much cross-referencing going on way back in the ol’ honours thesis days. I opened another folder labelled “Latin” and found typed out the texts that we worked on through two semesters of Latin. Beside the typed out text, I had laboriously typed out my translations. And I recalled that, not only did I do all this typing up, it was superfluous. I had done the translations painstakingly by hand, and only after it was corrected in class did I type it out. And I had kept reams of vocabulary exercises and grammar notes. No wonder I am so uptight about grammar. I kept the text and translations, but I ditched everything else.
I went downstairs and outside, pulling the bins under our study window. My partner threw the folders out. As the folders of paper sailed into the recycling bin, my pout got deeper and my frown more pronounced. When the ceremony was over, I trudged back up the stairs, now shivering from standing in the cold in only thin trousers and singlet, and curled myself into a morose ball of regret on one corner of our couch. My partner sat down and put a hand on my knee: you didn’t have to throw all of that out. Years of my intellectual life, I said self pityingly. All that stuff I once knew. Gone. If only I was really sad enough, one lonesome tear would have rolled down my cheek. My partner curled comfortingly into me and drew the corners of his mouth down to express his sympathy, and affectionate mockery of my theatricality. Don’t worry, I said. By tomorrow I’ll have completely forgotten about it all.
I have not quite forgotten, because this blog post has been churning away inside me. But now it’s written, my regret will fade away. All that intellectual stuff, gone indeed.
We are leaving Brisbane in less than two months time. Our house is getting emptier as we rid ourselves of the accumulated detritus of our past lives. I am looking forward to living with as few possessions as possible. My only weakness, I suspect, will be books.